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New worker shield against retaliation

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Monday that federal law protects a worker from being fired after telling investigators, in an internal probe, about sexual harassment on the job.  The Court said that the anti-retaliation provision of Title VII, a key workplace anti-bias law, extends to a worker who speaks out about discrimination not on her own, but in answering questions during an employer-ordered investigation. The ruling, written by Justice David H. Souter, came in Crawford v. Metro Government of Nashville (06-1595).  Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, wrote separately, supporting the judgment and part of the Court’s reasoning.

This was one of five rulings on the merits the Court issued before beginning a four-week recess.  Here, in brief, are the results in the other four:

** Ruling unanimously, the Court decided that police who have made a routine traffic stop of a vehicle may do a pat-down search — a “frisk” — of a passenger, even if they have no suspicion of any other crime, so long as the police believe the individual may be armed and dangerous and the search does not unduly prolong the traffic stop.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the Court in Arizona v. Johnson (07-1122).

** In another unanimous decision, the Court extended absolute legal immunity for line-prosecutors to damage lawsuits for their prosecution actions, so that it now also shields the policymakers in the top ranks of those who supervise and train those who actually pursue the criminal cases.  Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote the opinion in Van de Kamp v. Goldstein (07-854).

** In another 9-0 ruling, written by Justice Souter, the Court decided that an employee benefit plan’s provisions control when there is a dispute over a divorced spouse’s pension payments under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.  The opinion said that a plan administrator properly refused to enforce a waiver that a former wife had made in a divorce case of her pension rights, because that conflicted with what the former husband had provided in plan documents.  (Kennedy Estate v. DuPont Plan Administrator, 07-636).

** With Justice Souter again writing for a unanimous Court, the Justices upheld the Commerce Department’s authority to apply U.S. “anti-dumping” law when raw materials are sent abroad for re-processing into a manufactured product and then are returned to the U.S. in a finished product at a low price.  The ruling came in the consolidated cases of U.S. v. Eurodif (07-1059) and USEC v. Eurodif (07-1078), involving imports into the U.S. of a type of uranium used in the production of nuclear power.